Pickin’ Grapes and Rollin’ Trays: Life as a migrant in Central California #11- It is what we do, it is not who we are.

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We woke up early that day; heck we almost beat the rooster.  We meandered our way to the kitchen still in a stupor and thinking that we were the first ones to awaken.  The bustle and life that we encountered as we entered the kitchen confidently told us that life on that day had started much earlier than when we.   All around us and in every corner life was stirring.  The smell of café penetrated the kitchen; it’s the first and most important task of the morning. Abuela never failed in having it ready and prepared by the time her daughters began to enter the kitchen.  Tía had already filled the water jug with the day’s supply of fresh water from the well.  On the two back burners of the stove a massive clay pot sat, slowly cooking the day’s portion of beans; the beans that the two youngest Tías had painstakingly cleaned of sediment, seeds, and departed tiny creatures.   The kitchen table swayed and with each forward motion the shorter, front left leg struck the polished but worn and cold cement floor; the soft clang marked the rhythm that all in the kitchen seemed to follow.  Mom was making fresh tortillas.  The door opened letting in what appeared to be sunlight, the moon can also play tricks on the eyes. My last two Tías hurried in, one with a basket of fresh eggs and arms full of scratches, the other with a handful of salted and dried beef.  Before we sat down, the roar of an engine broke the morning song of the kitchen. The desert thicket muffled the noise but everybody knew the sound of the old standard drive Ford; it had enough in her to be heard for a few kilometros.   Abuelo and the Tíos, all three, had taken the cows out to the watering hole for the day and came back with a truck bed full of dry corn stalks. 

Abuela handed us two baby bottles filled with warm milk that was brought to a simmer.  There was work to be done before we sat at the kitchen table.  My sister and I had the task of going to the back of the farm house and feeding two small kids that were penned near the first corral.  They could not have been more than a few days old, maybe a week.  We crawled into the pen and gave them their bottles.  I took the spotted one and my sis fed the all white one; we stayed for awhile and played with them.  They were such playful little goats.  We would have stayed longer if not for the hunger that started to overcome us.  We hurried back to the kitchen and found the family, Abuelos, tios, and some cousins seated at the table.  As we entered the kitchen we saw the bounty on the table as it was lit up by the rays of the early morning sun.   Off in the distance, the rooster began his song. 

It was good to be back on the ranch, la Bermeja.  The 2000 mile journey still had everybody drained and listless. But, it was nothing that a good day’s work couldn’t fix.  Being out in the corrals, amongst the animals and in the ticket of the desert invigorated us.  Although we were limited by our youth from taking part in the dangerous work, we entertained ourselves by watching the men do ranch work.  It was what these men were meant to do.  They were poetic with their lariats and daring with their horses.  They frequently came within a whisker of being gored by a horn but elegantly avoided it with a quick two step and a curve of the back.  What courage and footwork. 

Picking grapes is what we all had to do to survive but it was not who we were.  

As the day went by we had to feed the kids several times; they drink a lot of milk at that age.   While the men were wrestling with beasts with horns we, my sis and I, were doing the same.  Our beasts, however, were a little more manageable and tame.  We had to feed the kids again.   During the course of the long hot day we also fed the hogs, dekerneled corn, and crawled into corn stalk stacks looking for eggs.  None of the cousins wanted this last task for two simple reasons, usually the chicken was still there (you better be ready to rumble) and dangers of the slithering kind were at times present.  They seek the warmth of the corn stalk stacks. 

Before you knew it the sun was down, the day was done, and it was dinner time.  The family had been separated by thousands of miles and two countries for a very long time.  Now, most of the family was together.  The ghost town that is la Bermeja had spirit and soul again.  We sat at the table and began to enjoy the beans, the tortillas and the corn.  Almost everything tastes better when you work for it and work to prepare it.  Mexican dishes, at least this part of Mexico, always have meat. The plate of meat that night was a stew of small pieces of a very flavorsome, juicy and tender meat.  It was the sensation of the night to almost everybody. 

Sis truly loved it and was enjoying it up until she asked Abuelo what kind of meat it was. 

_ Tú debes saber hija, le diste de comer esta mañana.  (You should know daughter, you fed it this morning.)

Life on the ranch!   Till this day sis will not eat goat or lamb.    

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Juan Martinez  contributes regulary on Bukisa, an online community where you earn residual income by sharing your knowledge.  To syndicate this article click “republish article” located at the bottom.

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